"I just want to feel warm inside," pisses Savannah, who is peeing right in front of me and contemplating a heroin relapse (which makes you not pee, mind you). "I want to be slung up on the couch, numb and beautiful."

"Me, I'd rather be grabbing the back of my head and gritting my teeth," I cocaine back. "Something louder, faster and more involved that would make sitting here watching a Pet Shop Boys DVD anthology somehow engaging."

Either way, it's a full moon and both of us are feeling that tide-pull need to be something we aren't, but maybe used to be. It's a precarious minefield, really, when you consider the amount of peroxide that had to be sacrificed to achieve this particular moment of blonde conjecture. Neither of us is wholly serious, but neither of us is measurably OK, either.


"I won't," etc.

It's time to go out. Maybe some mascara would help.

"OK, so where are we going?" Savannah wipes.

"We're going to the mascara," I clump, then brush. "Our mission: to achieve the ultimate in artifice."

Well, that shouldn't be hard, considering that the voluminous eyelash enhancer in this evening's junk-free equation is actually "La Maschera di Avalon," a metaphor-heavy fund-raiser for the forever needy Kuhn/Kiene complex that is the Downtown Arts District. It's a masquerade, essentially, not unlike the notion that there is an arts district near a bank building in dreary downtown, and that its point of entry — or postcard, if you will — is a barely restored hardwood and brick real estate hole recently coined the City Arts Factory. I smell a sweatshop.

"Allow the luxury of your mask to possess you and immerse yourself in an elegant realm of art, music, & passion," oozed the gold print on the invite. "Sumptuous fare and lively infusions shall be provided to tantalize your palate and seduce your senses as enticing entertainment surrounds you."

And as the words poured onto my trembling lap, I swear I coughed up a Nora Roberts mass market. An expensive one, too (oooh, first edition?). Tickets are priced at a chic-not-shabby $100, and that's without the eBay shipping fee.

"Who's going to be there?" Savannah lapped at my tremble.

"Nobody we know."

Which isn't exactly true. In a hilarious twist of Dickensian proportions — one that involves the Oliver Twist that is Jim Faherty (tonight in a plague-ish bird mask) — the frou-frou affair is staffed by downtown scenesters, annexed and draped in presentable black. So, effectively the people that created the downtown buzz — your Josie Fluri of Redlight Redlight, your Tom Ward of the crazy musical leanings — have been co-opted to serve the brass that have purchased the appearance of a downtown scene, those clumsy with money who would like nothing more than to appear somewhere near a neon sign that reads "hipster." Some, rather disturbingly, are wearing masks.

Savannah and I uncomfortably mingle toward the middlebrow and browse the first-floor retail spaces for some kind of art that doesn't imitate life.

"I could do that," Savannah points at a blob collage. "And that, and that, and that."

Satisfied that we're not going to find it in sparse rooms with salespeople in them, we get on with the business at hand: namely, the sumptuous fare and lively infusions that are supposed to tantalize our palates. Or, well, cheese, crackers and Swedish meatballs. I snatch a drink from Josie's bar upstairs, Savannah piles sharps on top of milds and borders them with some fluffy crab dip, and we grab a table and pretend we're at a prom. Mostly because we are.

At our table, a veritable summit of local "career" artists congeals, with business cards and flyers flipping about in a flutter of pedestrian self-promotion.

"Are you an artist?" coos Gabrielle, a Scottish transplant who deals in oils and acrylics. "Because you look like an artist." Or a junkie.

When Savannah and I obligatorily produce our low-end media business cards, the froth really starts flying. Richard, a sculptor with a mustache, pulls a flyer out from his sweaty lower back with a photo of his cityscape carved into a submarine door, then flirts with Savannah. Jessica, a sweating fag-hag with a butterfly painted over her eyes in the exact image of the butterfly mask she's auctioning tonight, pouts and feigns snobbery, obviously courting me. When we try to get up and make a nicotine escape, Jessica simpers, "Oh, great. The two best people here are leaving me." So we can't. She follows us outside for our AA smoke-off.

"So, where do the cool people hang out?" she rolls her eyes as bits of her butterfly roll into them.

"I don't know," I burn my sources, and flip to the ‘P' page in my autopilot manual. "Peacock? Parliament House?"

"Oh, I used to hang out there 16 years ago," she drips. And she's not the only one dripping now. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, a giant storm with tornadic trappings slams the downtown corridor, creating what almost feels like a real, wet city moment. Even more city, nobody will let us back in the side door that we crept out of, and we're stuck in the rain for our hair to die a horrible artless death. The horror!

Finally inside, the rain wait begins. We try to kill time by watching an artist with mandatory dreads burn glass while a slip-dressed booster quizzes him on the merits of Chihuly. It doesn't work. So, back upstairs, we sit by a window next to Jessica's horrid mask and I get to napkin-controlling her junkie dripping, taking pains to keep the facial butterfly's black border in check and scrubbing erroneously at a confusing mole.

We beckon Real Radio's Dan Stone over, only because he's officially "not talking to" Savannah, and try to dwell on that discomfort for a minute, but it serves no purpose. When I pick a piece of crumbled brick out of a window frame, I realize that we won't be achieving the ultimate in artifice tonight at all. Nor will we be numb, beautiful, ate-up or ridiculous enough to make it matter any more than mascara.

The artifice is already here. It's just the art that's missing.

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